Reading the keys: 49ers/Buccaneers

Here's how the 49ers fared on Sunday in keys to the game identified by NinersDigest before San Francisco's 48-3 blowout win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Candlestick Park, giving the 49ers their most lopsided victory in 24 years, their first 4-1 start since 2002 and their first three-game winning streak since 2006. Not surprisingly in a 45-point win, the 49ers hit on all seven of their keys.

Pound LeGarrette Blount, and not vice versa
Blount gained six yards on his first carry and went for a nine-yard burst on his second – then was completely shut down the rest of the afternoon by San Francisco's stingy defense. Blount rushed for 19 yards on eight carries the remainder of the day and was shut out in the second half, when the Bucs abandoned their bread-and-butter rusher and never handed him the football. That left Blount's halftime totals of 10 carries for 34 yards to stand as the day's work for the NFL's 12th-leading rusher entering the game, keeping intact San Francisco's streak of 27 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Blount told writers he was fine afterwards, but he took a pounding as the 49ers virtually took him out of the game.

Throw to Vernon Davis over the middle
There was no Tampa Bay defender within five yards of Davis when he cut over the middle to find wide-open space on his 23-yard touchdown catch-and-run that increased San Francisco's lead to 31-3 early in the third quarter and officially turned the game into a blowout. Davis earlier had drawn a 24-yard pass interference penalty at the goal line to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Frank Gore, and Davis later beat cornerback Ronde Barber on a 14-yard touchdown reception that pushed the rout to 41-3 on the first offensive play of the fourth quarter.

Attack the edges of Tampa's defensive front with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter
The 49ers went right at Tampa Bay defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Michael Bennett and opened gaping holes on the edges for both Gore and Hunter. Gore also found plenty of yards up the middle after Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy left with an injury in the second quarter, and he finished with a bruising 125 yards rushing on 20 carries, a 6.3 average. Gore gashed the Bucs for runs of 21, 19 and 18 yards and also scored on a 2-yard run. Hunter added 65 yards on nine carries, adding insult to injury when he swept left end for a 44-yard gain on a second-and-13 play from the San Francisco 7-yard line that highlighted a 90-yard drive by the 49ers for their final touchdown. The Niners rushed for a season-high 213 yards, with Gore and Hunter combining for 190 yards on 29 carries.

Pressure Josh Freeman and force him into mistakes
The 49ers frustrated Freeman throughout the day and were all over his passes, intercepting two of them and knocking away seven others. Both of Freeman's picks set up San Francisco touchdowns, and cornerback Carlos Rogers returned the first 31 yards for a TD that put the 49ers in command 14-3 early in the second quarter. The 49ers sacked Freeman twice but were even better in forcing him into early throws and poor decisions. Freeman barely completed half of his 33 throws and finished with a paltry 43.4 passer rating.

Ricky Jean Francois holds the line of scrimmage
Francois was particularly impressive against veteran center Jeff Faine in what easily was the best game of the defensive lineman's three-year career with the 49ers. Francois did his job at nose tackle holding the point of attack and engaging blockers in the interior, allowing inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman to swarm to the football for a combined 18 tackles – including 13 in the first half when Tampa Bay was still attempting to establish the run. Francois, in his first career start, even got in on three tackles and showed his athleticism by getting down the line quickly on several plays that went away from him.

Win the turnover battle
The 49ers are getting pretty good at this, even though they fell behind in the turnover battle early when Frank Gore lost a fumble in the first quarter. That was San Francisco's only turnover of the day, and the Niners have just four through five games this season. The 49ers intercepted Josh Freeman twice and recovered a fumble after free safety Dashon Goodson put a bone-crunching hit on Mike Williams that forced the wide receiver to cough up the football. The 49ers turned all three takeaways into touchdowns, and their 3-1 edge in turnovers on the day is becoming a regular part of San Francisco's winning formula. Tied for the NFL lead with a plus-8 turnover margin entering the game, the 49ers now are sitting at plus-10 for the season.

Attack and exploit weak spots of Tampa defense
The 49ers created mismatches throughout the game with a creative and diverse offensive attack, setting the tone early on their first offensive possession, which ended with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to tight end Delanie Walker. Walker lined up in the right slot, where Tampa opted to cover him with linebacker Dekoda Watson. Walker broke off the line and spun around Watson with an inside slant move toward the end zone. Smith spotted the mismatch right away and fired a strike into the hands of Walker in front of a late-arriving safety. And the rout had only just begun, as the 49ers challenged Tampa Bay with long passes and deep routes throughout the game.

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